Extinguish negative veterinary practice reviews
Burned by scathing Internet comments? Posting a response may actually help you gain veterinary clients—if you take the right approach.
Jun 01, 2012
Remember the old days before cellphones, smartphones, or the Internet? We knew that if we made one person happy, she would tell three people. But if a single client left unhappy, she would tell 10. When consumers are angry with a service provider, they want to tell the world. And in today's age of instant communication, they can—and do. The difference is that instead of complaining to their 10 friends, they'll complain to 100, 10,000, or more. That's why monitoring your online reputation is vital.
Every practice, no matter how good, is bound to get negative reviews. But how you handle those comments in a public forum can either fuel the feud or help you establish an even stronger following.
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
Unfortunately, there are few rules or regulations in place when it comes to free speech on the Internet. The concept of professional slander is nonexistent. Review websites are immune to legal ramifications, citing in their policies that printed reviews are the sole views of their contributors. Oh, sure, they may screen the reviews for vulgarity or viciousness, but they have no interest in screening for the truth. Basically, you're on your own. Unlike a journal article, where an author will be notified in writing and given a fair opportunity to respond in print to challenging viewpoints, negative Internet reviews are sitting out there, unchallenged, for everyone to see.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
So, who are these complainers? Many, believe it or not, seem to be professional complainers. You can see that they've contributed several reviews—mostly negative. They probably feel it is their obligation to protect the world from terrible people like us.
A few years ago, I read one caustic review from a client I immediately recognized. She cited an experience when her dog was vaccinated during a boarding stay at our hospital. Our boarding policy is clearly printed on the intake forms: "All pets need to be current on vaccinations." Because our records indicated that her dog was overdue on his vaccinations, and no updates were provided on his boarding form, my technicians updated the vaccines to comply with hospital policy. After reviewing her invoice, the client flipped out, claiming that she told our receptionist on the phone when she scheduled the appointment that she recently updated her pet's vaccines at a local vaccination clinic. Unfortunately, no notation was made. Of course, given the client's long-standing association with our hospital and our desire to make things right, we removed the charge and advised her that these vaccines would not harm her pet. We also advanced the pet's vaccination schedule to reflect the latest vaccinations. This sounds like a no-brainer, right? End of story? Not quite.
For starters, this event took place in 2005, but the review appeared in September 2010. What's more interesting is that this client has been back to the hospital many times during the past five years, as if nothing had happened. And even more upsetting is the fact that she's an attorney—a service provider just like we are.
When I called her to ask about the review, she told me she had an "obligation" to share that experience because she felt we provided the service without permission "because we wanted to make more money." I guess our need to protect the health and safety of her pet—and all boarding pets—didn't resonate with her. Nor did our decision to reverse all charges. She just wanted to complain.
Another negative review came from a non-client who came to our office to purchase a case of prescription diet. Her regular veterinarian, she explained, is farther away, so she wanted to come to a more convenient hospital to pick up the food. For me, this was a golden opportunity to attract a new client, but unfortunately, my receptionist explained to the owner that since we didn't have a "doctor-patient" relationship, we couldn't sell her the food. Obviously, this client was not happy. And, boy, did she post her dissatisfaction for everyone to see. Trying to "make nice" and explain the method to our madness, I clicked on the icon under her review where I could respond to her directly and in private (at the time I didn't think it was appropriate to share my comments publicly). I started by apologizing profusely for her negative experience and explained that in order to sell any prescriptions, including diets, we really need to have that "doctor-patient" relationship. I did mention, however, that we could have contacted her hospital to get the doctor's OK, acting more like a pharmacy than her primary-care provider. Telling her how badly I felt, I offered a courtesy exam (since she mentioned we were more convenient) if she were ever in a bind or had an emergency and needed immediate attention. I thought this was a great response—what more could I do? Well, it obviously wasn't impressive enough because she never responded to my note. Not even a "thanks, but no thanks." Again, another pet owner who wasn't looking for a resolution—just the opportunity to complain.